Friday Five – Controversy in the gig economy, Beyond Meat beyond expectations, and Macy’s latest dish not the hit of the party

Tip of the iceberg for the gig economy

DoorDash has made headlines this week by changing its controversial tipping model that stiffs the actual people providing the labor. The new model guarantees a minimum pay per delivery, but couriers will only receive this minimum pay even if the customer decides to tip as DoorDash pockets the rest.

It’s no surprise that food couriers have been called “the most vulnerable workers in digital labor.” In the U.S. alone, an estimated 36% of the population is working in the gig economy, a precarious form of employment with no minimum pay, no set hours, and no unions to watch your back. At the same time, these forms of employment are giving people more freedom, with easy, part time gigs they can pick up anytime, anywhere. Recent data even shows that gig economy workers are 33% more likely to report positive mental health.

Uber and Lyft are in the midst of fighting tooth and nail against drivers in California demanding basic worker’s rights, since giving them a living wage and benefits . . . could completely bankrupt both companies. These companies are often praised for being innovative, creating a new era of digital economy, and changing the world as we know it… but must innovation come at the cost of fair wages? While some love the freedom that this type of work provides, Uber and Lyft drivers could remain in a gridlock for basic workers’ rights in California for the foreseeable future.

Beyond Meat: Sink your teeth into a meatless future

Beyond Meat, LA-based conjurer of plant-based meat substitutes, has been sating consumer appetites with over 15,000 partners offering its innovative burgers, sausages, and ground beef. From A&W to Tim Hortons and to the hallowed halls of Harvard University, consumers are sold on a mission that aspires to solve four issues attributed to livestock production: human health, climate change, constraints on natural resources, and animal welfare.

The hype is well-founded: U.S. sales of plant-based meats soared 42% between 2016 and 2019, suggesting, at least to some capacity, the social normalization of meatless alternatives across American palates. Whether Beyond Meat delivers with equal bang on all four of its key issues remains to be seen. Some experts argue that the Beyond Burger, containing nearly 20 ingredients like refined coconut oil and pea protein isolate, is, for all intents and purposes, qualified as highly processed food. That’s something to raise a few concerning eyebrows among adherents of various national food guides. Not to worry: one can always gaze beyond Beyond Meat and take a bite out of its multiplying rivals like the Impossible Foods or the Awesome Burger. The meatless game is just getting started.

Macy’s biting off more than they can chew

Macy’s seems to have taken a page out of the Customer Dissatisfaction book and stocked plates from a subtly named company Pourtions. The plate had three “portion control” circles with the inside and smallest ring saying ‘skinny jeans’, the middle ring saying ‘favorite jeans’ and the outside and largest ring saying ‘mom jeans’. Clearly Pourtions haven’t heard that mom jeans are in, and according to one article the high-waisted throwbacks are saving the entire denim industry. Mom jeans aside, shopper Alie Ward, came across the questionable plates and tweeted out to her large platform ‘How can I get these plates from Macy’s banned in all 50 states’… turns out all you need to achieve this is have your tweet go mega-viral with 30,000 likes and setting the online-reaction-article-world abuzz. Macy’s reacted quickly, pulling the plates and apologizing for ‘missing the mark’ with the body-shaming dinnerware.

Not to be outdone, fast-fashion clothier Forever 21 has had a wave of negative PR this week after shoppers accused them of fat shaming upon finding Atkins diet bars in plus-size orders. This is a big unforced error for the company as they advertise themselves as inclusive for all sizes. The company responded by saying they “surprise our customers with free test products”, however this surprise is like being hit with a huge tax bill you didn’t know you were going to get. With nearly 70% of  American woman wearing above a size 14 or above, and with women as the main customer of both Macy’s and Forever 21 body-shaming doesn’t appear to be the most clever marketing choice.

Millennial life hack: Save now and eat 25 years later

As stories abound of millennials drowning in a sea of student debt, a new movement known as FIRE (financial independence retire early) promises early retirement for those able to save half of their salary and lead frugal lives devoid of ‘treat yourself Fridays.’ One couple retired in their early 30s after accumulating $760,000 in savings within three years and have begun spreading their formula for financial independence to the thriftless, free-spending millennial masses.

Using the retirement world’s 4% rule, the couple calculated their annual living expenses and multiplied that amount by 25 to determine their financial target for early retirement. They achieved 80% of their target within nine years by cutting back on transportation, housing, avocado toast and lattes, but more significantly, forgoing that elusive boomer dream of owning a house with the white picket fence and manicured lawns in the ‘burbs. Like most didactic success stories, the couple conveniently began their journey with high-income jobs minus a mountain of debt. Still, a strategy of intensive saving with no debt sounds infinitely more realistic than the person who was gifted a condo and acquired additional rental properties to pay off their student loans.

As the unwritten adulthood milestones of the past no longer hold true for the youth of today, you too can achieve the millennial dream of becoming a globetrotting nomad with the help of some family favors or a handsomely paid Silicon Valley tech job. Easy peasy lemon squeasy!

Medical marijuana medical research and market size – let it grow!

The legality of cannabis varies both in its depth and in global reach, with policy sprouting up as early as the 1970s when a system of cannabis supply has been illegal but tolerated in the Netherlands. Today, medicinal marijuana’s legitimization continues to gain momentum, with over half of all U.S. state legislatures considering lawmaking in 2019 to legalize possession or use. Overseas, European markets, despite highly fragmented legal frameworks, are opening their doors to savvier Canadian firms. In Asia too, the swelling cannabis wave is expected to peak at a cool $8.5 billion by 2024. On the global scale, the medical marijuana market will hit $148.3 billion by 2026, with use cases in neurology, cancer, seizures, and muscle spasms fueling growth.

Supporting research is emerging, with the most recent Canadian study suggesting cannabis molecules are 30 times more powerful at reducing inflammation than Aspirin. Beyond pain relief, science points to potential of using CBD (and LSD) to fight Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). The latter affects as many as 16 million Americans, not to mention the countless lost dollars of productivity.

Despite these promises, the road for cannabis is filled with potholes including lack of data safety, side effects, complex market dynamics, and challenges involved in undertaking medical marijuana business. As Robert Burns said, “there is no such uncertainty as a sure thing.”

Read last week’s edition of Friday Five: VW and Ford partner for driverless cars, Apple funding podcasts, and the battle for airplane WiFi

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